STRANGE to think that from tomorrow there won’t be a Leveson Inquiry any more.
The noble judge will present his findings on the culture and ethics of the British press in less than 24 hours’ time. Then he’ll be off to Australia for a well-earned rest while his report is chewed over by ministers.
Lord Leveson has certainly had no shortage of advice, hearing from more than 180 witnesses since the inquiry began last November.
The list of those who took the oath is like a who’s who of British society, including A list celebrities, newspaper editors, ministers of the crown and four prime ministers.
In nickname terms, the inquiry has heard from everyone from the Fake Sheikh to the Prince of Darkness to the Minister for Fun.
Roman Abramovich has sacked two managers in the time it’s taken Lord Leveson to inspect the scuzzy underbelly of Her Majesty’s press corps.
There was probably a point sometime in May, as legions of highly-paid lawyers pored over every last text message sent between a PR man and a politician’s adviser that the inquiry lost its relevance.
Was Henry Michel’s 15th email of December 14, 2010 more significant than the 17th text Adam Smith sent to him the day before? And more to the point, who cares?
I can’t help feeling Lord Leveson found out as much as he needed to know from the inquiry’s first two witnesses – Bob and Sally Dowler.
Hearing the couple describe their heartbreak when they discovered their daughter Milly’s phone had been hacked by the News of the World confirmed in stark terms that a terrible injustice had been committed.
To even consider intruding in such a way on a missing teenager and her family was morally repugnant.
But, at the risk of stating the obvious, hacking Milly Dowler’s phone was not just ethically wrong, it was legally wrong as well.
Listening in on the conversations of adulterous celebrities is also against the law – though the suffering of those poor wee dears doesn’t keep me awake at night.
So why do we need a yearlong inquiry to investigate something which is already against the law?
Surely what’s needed when illegal activity is uncovered is for the police to arrest those responsible – even if this means nicking the same people who were buying them dinner the month before.
But because the police didn’t do this – because they refused for years to do the job we pay them to do – every print journalist in the country must suffer.
That includes not just the “feral beasts” of the national newspapers, but also the local reporters who spend their days in magistrate courts and town halls up and down the country.
Every one of them will find their job more difficult if, as seems almost certain, Lord Leveson recommends setting up statutory regulation of the press.
You can dress it up any way you like, add caveats until the cows come home, but ultimately this means one thing – politicians interfering in newspapers.
Perhaps there’s a country somewhere in the world which has become healthier and happier by muzzling its media, but I can’t think of one.
A free press, for all the problems this brings, ultimately means a free people.
Journalists should be regulated by the law of the land, not by the whim of some politician.
If a reporter hacks a phone or bribes a cop then the answer isn’t more rules, the solution is that the rules that already exist should be enforced.
And if the police aren’t prepared to do this, then maybe it’s them – rather than every journalist in the country – who need to be regulated more.